The 21st century’s when everything changes…


…apparently.  According to Captain Jack Harkness, that is.  Having mentioned dreaming about John Barrowman being at a recent audition, I thought it would be polite to mention his latest televisual exploits in Torchwood.  Now I like science fiction, me, as it can do things that other genres of literature, film and television just can’t.  It can take a perfectly ordinary relationship difficulty, moral dilemma or whatever and take it far beyond ‘realistic’ genres.  Plus, it’s an awful lot of fun.

Now Torchwood is a spin-off from Doctor Who, if you didn’t know.  The titles are anagrams, isn’t that clever?  Well, maybe not.  Anyway, it tells of the adventures of a fictional paranormal investigation team who are ‘beyond’ the government and the United Nations, based (for very sensible reasons, which have nothing to do with convenient shooting locations in the area) in an underground complex in Cardiff.  It’s led by Captain Jack (said Mr Barrowman), a character who appeared in the Doctor Who series, and it all happens in the same universe.  The Doctor, the TARDIS, Cybermen and other ideas from the main series have been referenced, but it’s an entirely different beast.  For a start, it’s an adult show, definitely not suitable for the Doctor’s family tea-time audience.  The characters say naughty four-letter words (though not to excess, it has to be said), do a lot of kissing, get their kit off from time to time and most definitely have active sex lives.  None of your metaphors about ‘dancing’ here.

But the show is adult in more than just a certification sense.  It doesn’t patronise its audience.  It has interesting characters.  You get the feeling that they can change, they can be multi-faceted, they can probably even die when you least expect it (well, with one exception, due to a handy touch of immortality).  Characters are set up as regulars only to commit suicide, a bland character can have a perfectly good reason for being bland, men can cry, people can make decisions that won’t be reset by the beginning of the next episode.  Like other grown-up science fiction series I have loved, such as Deep Space Nine and Ultraviolet, you get the sense that this is more than ‘just’ sci-fi.  It’s wonderful – you get to feel as though you’re watching something vaguely worthy, yet still feel very excited when the resident pterodactyl appears on the screen.  Yes, I like the pterodactyl.  Yes, the Singing Librarian probably is just a big kid!

So far, Torchwood has a good track record in the realms of ‘taking the Singing Librarian by surprise’.  In all of the episodes, I thought things were going in a particular direction, but I was proved wrong.  Generally the outcome was the same, but the path was different.  A couple of deaths have caught me off guard, the expected resolution to a touch of unresolved sexual tension (essential for any television serial) was deftly side-stepped, and even when the alien menace is safely defeated, things aren’t exactly ‘all right in the end’.  An element of unpredictability is definitely a good thing.

Thus far, four episodes of Torchwood have graced our scenes.  Well, only three if you don’t have digital TV, and none at all if you live beyond this sceptred isle, but you know what I mean.  The first episode was a ‘hello, here are our characters and our set-up, and incidentally, isn’t our main set pretty’ episode.  The second was a ‘yes, we are an adult series that isn’t suitable for families – look, we made a sci-fi story that’s mostly about sex’ episode.  The third was an interesting one that flirted with time travel.  And the fourth?  Last night’s offering?  The fourth was magnificent, in my opinion.  The ‘moral dilemma taken as far as it could possibly go’ episode, it does surprising things with the Cyberman concept and features a wonderful central performance by the fresh-faced Gareth David-Lloyd as receptionist Ianto Jones.  Not quite as good as Doctor Who‘s strongest episodes so far, perhaps, but very, very good indeed.  Adrenaline and pathos in a very heady mix.

It’s all very silly stuff when it comes down to it.  Sex-addicted aliens.  Flying dinosaurs in the basement.  Gloves that raise the dead for a few minutes.  A man who can’t die, but almost wants to.  But it’s silly stuff handled seriously, with a healthy dose of humour.  Well-written, well-performed and with a pleasing attention to detail.  It’s not perfect, but who wants perfect?  Now, to make my joy complete, they just need to use John Barrowman’s other talents (aside from acting and looking annoyingly handsome, that is) and make a musical episode.  It would probably be a disaster, but it would be an interesting disaster.  Actually, no, leave the singing where it belongs. 

Well worth your post-watershed time, I feel.  Sit back, relax and let Captain Jack and his crew of similarly beautiful people (couldn’t there be just one plain or ordinary member of the team, to make us mere mortals feel better?) make you believe in a world where people hunt aliens in the sewers.  It’s better than Celebrity Hairdressers Falling in Love in the World’s Worst Kitchen, that’s for certain.

Oh, and there’s a pretty good official site to explore, should you feel the urge, which provides links to the ‘real’ Torchwood’s computer system.

  1. I just loved the pterodactyl.

    I am also enjoying Torchwood very much – and had never spotted that it was an anagram of Doctor Who – I am beyond bad at anagrams. Thank you for that.

  2. “to make my joy complete, they just need to use John Barrowman’s other talents (aside from acting and looking annoyingly handsome, that is) and make a musical episode.”

    Well, it would be a winning combination. JB sure can sing and your conceit worked really well in the musical episode of Buffy.

    By the way, west end whingers have transferred to a new venue due to artistic differences with google. We are now at http://westendwhingers.wordpress.com

  3. Just caught the repeat. Have been approaching your blog with eyes closed and fingers in ears for a couple of days. Isn’t Torchwood fun? The whole adult thing is a bit disconcerting though because otherwise it is, after all, very Who.

  4. Sol, I tried to make things as spoiler-free as possible, knowing that my digital-viewingness is not a universal state. Lots and lots of fun is what Torchwood is! I hope we continue to get glimpses of the pterodactyl whenever the effects budget allows. And I’m convinced that there’s a lot more to the Weevils than we’ve been told.

    I rather like the musical episode of Buffy, which uses the conceit to advance the series’ plot, and also manages to have fun with the conventions of the musical. I can’t think of any other reasonable ways to have a musical episode of a series aside from ‘a musical demon/alien/dimension makes them do it’, though, which would be rather ripping off the Buffy idea.

  5. Oh, there weren’t really any spoilers there. But the only way to find that out was by reading it. Tricky…

    I’m now rather looking forward to the story where the guy in the perpetual suit gets to not save whatsisface the captain chappie (I seem to have lost all facility to remember characters’ names now). Well, perhaps ‘looking forward’ is the wrong expression.

    Mostly, though, I spend my time facinated by the impossibly wide mouth of the other bloke in the gang. That’s a princess and the frog episode waiting to happen. I’m sure you could work a few musical numbers in as well.

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